South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said Monday an investigation by law enforcement agencies found no evidence to substantiate allegations that a Rapid City hospital intentionally carved the letters "KKK" into a patient's chest during heart surgery.
Vernon Traversie, 69, of Lakota, has alleged that surgeons at Rapid City Regional Hospital carved scars with the letters into his chest last year. He has filed a federal lawsuit against the hospital, surgeons and others, but the hospital's lawyer has denied the allegations.
Jackley said after the case was referred to state and federal law enforcement agencies, investigations found no evidence of criminal or intentional conduct. The investigations found the marks on Traversie were the result of a skin reaction to the medical grade tape used to secure tubes that remained in place after the surgery, he said.
A state Health Department investigation also was unable to substantiate the allegations of patient abuse, neglect or improper care, Jackley said.
"The serious allegation that someone intentionally engaged in the hate crime of carving `KKK' into a South Dakotan, if true, would justify criminal prosecution to the fullest extent of the law," Jackley said in a written statement. "The independent investigations have produced no evidence of such criminal or intentional conduct."
Traversie's spokesman, Pastor Ben Farrar, of Eagle Butte, said other investigations are pending and he expects they will find wrongdoing by the hospital. Even if the scars were caused by surgical tape, that could indicate negligence by medical personnel, he said.
"It will be the courts who will be deciding whether there was wrongdoing here, and not the attorney general," Farrar told The Associated Press.
"I think it will be discovered that someone based on some form of hatred has carved letters into the torso of Vernon Traversie," Farrar said.
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